SUPER DRAGON BALL HEROES WORLD MISSION is a Deceptively Deep Card Game in Desperate Need of an Audience
Goku is Real, Strong, and My Friend in This Competitive Card Battler
I was eight years old when I learned about tactical card games. Through one way or another, my brother and all his friends became enamored with a brand new smash hit game called Yu-Gi-Oh! Because I was eight, I also wanted to be a part of it, and soon began collecting my own Yu-Gi-Oh! cards as well. A wave of parental concern over the inclusion of magic in the series soon nipped my dreams of becoming a Yu-Gi-Oh! master in the bud, however, and I went back to just collecting good old American baseball cards instead. As I grew older and my interests grew nerdier, I found myself interested by card games once again. However, I struggled to find the game that was right for me. The biggest obstacle was finding anyone who actually played card games. The next issue was financial. I became more reluctant to spend money on random card packs when I could just be buying video games instead. The only video game-based card games that were big, though, didn’t have any characters I was invested in. I’d all but given up hope on ever finding the card game that was right for me.
Enter SUPER DRAGON BALL HEROES WORLD MISSION! Developed by Dimps Corporation and SAFARI GAMES and published by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, WORLD MISSION is a tactical card game based on the Japanese arcade hit Super Dragon Ball Heroes. WORLD MISSION marks the first release of one of the biggest digital card games in the world to the Western market. Having quite recently fallen in love with the Dragon Ball franchise, I jumped at the opportunity to take this game for a spin and see if it can fill that void my confiscated cards left behind.
At first I found myself rather underwhelmed by SUPER DRAGON BALL HEROES WORLD MISSION’s systems. For starters, you’re not quite building a deck the way most competitive card games would have you. Most competitive card games require you to amass a thick deck filled with cards of various types and purposes for you to shuffle and cycle through at random. In SBDH, however, you’re only allowed to bring a total of seven cards into a match, all of which attack the enemy. There are no pure spell or support cards, and there’s no need to draw cards in battle either. You choose your lineup of attackers and fight with them alone, no tricks or traps required. In this way, it’s very true to the spirit of combat in Dragon Ball.
It felt simple, and that carried into my first bouts of combat. The playing field of SDBH is divided into an attack zone and a support zone. Each card in your deck has a stamina bar; playing a card in the attack zone uses stamina while retreating to the support zone recovers stamina. How far into the attack zone a card is placed determines how much stamina is used. If a card runs out of stamina, it becomes susceptible to being stunned when attacked. A stunned card cannot attack in turn. Each card also has an associated power level, which is affected by both where it’s placed in the attack zone and how much stamina it has left. The player with the highest total power level attacks first in the round. Both players face off in QTE battles. If the attacker wins, they do more damage and have a chance to do a super attack. If they lose, they do minimal damage to their opponent.
Taken at face value, it seems like a rather straightforward -- and somewhat boring -- combat system that values raw attack power above all else. After a few hours with the game, though, I began to understand the complexities and possible builds within its systems. Each card in SDBH has its own set of abilities. These can range from active abilities that trigger massive attacks after certain rounds, to passive abilities that increase total power level for every card in the attack zone, to fusions, formations, and transformations that change or amplify the abilities of each card involved.
These abilities compliment the different classes of cards available. Hero types are balanced cards that focus on defense, Elite types drain the enemy’s stamina and can regenerate their own, while Berserker types deal high damage at a high cost of defense. It takes some time and experimentation to recognize the usefulness of different cards and abilities, but once you do it opens up a wealth of options for you to take into battle. For instance, you could assemble a deck focused on counters that nullify enemy attacks, stamina-based attacks that wear them down across rounds, or high-risk, high-reward decks with the power to KO enemies in round one and the defensive capabilities of a wet piece of paper.
(For those curious, I run a deck comprised of two Hero types, two Elite types, and three Berserker types. I rest my Berserkers in round one to build their stamina, then unleash a total assault in round two. I find a lot of success with that build right now, but the biggest obstacle I face is enemies increasing the speed of my QTEs. Losing QTE battles mean my strong attacks are less effective and my defenses get torn to shreds. It gets the job done quickly, but it’s not very adaptable.)
At the start of the game you’re given a beginner’s deck of low-level cards to play with. To earn new cards, players must unlock the gacha shop and spend tickets to roll for new cards. I can already hear you groaning, but don’t fret! There isn’t a single option in the game to spend real money on virtual currency. BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment has thankfully chosen to relegate add-on purchases for SDBH to music pack selections from the anime only (the fact they’re an outlier in that regard makes my stomach turn). At the time of this review there are a total of 1,177 cards in the game, and the tickets needed to unlock them can only be earned by engaging with game’s different modes. And Kami knows there’s no shortage of modes here to engage with.
When first starting the game you’ll be required to go through the prologue chapter of its story mode. You take on the role of a kid who just moved to a city where Super Dragon Ball Heroes is the biggest thing around. You’re given your first deck and enter a beginner’s tournament that teaches you the basics of the game. Your talents are soon recognized by a master player called the Great Saiyaman 3. Suddenly, Cooler himself begins attacking the city outside. The Great Saiyaman 3 informs you that the game is beginning to invade the real world, and recruits you to travel into the world of the game to defeat the crisis. Once you’ve finished the prologue, you can begin rolling for new cards and changing up your deck. The rest of the games modes will open up to you as well.
In addition to the story mode, the game features an arcade mode, a tournament mode, card creation, mission creation, and online network battles. The arcade mode is a series of simple battles themed around the different sagas that have run throughout the Super Dragon Ball Heroes arcade game. The tournament mode has you compete against AI-controlled players in a series of increasingly difficult tournaments. Card creation allows players to use items earned in game or bought from an in-game store to create their own custom cards for use in offline play. Mission mode allows players to create their own battle scenarios and upload them to the internet for other players to try. Online network allows players to compete in casual and ranked matches with scheduled events that add the option for battles with special rules in play.
Progress in each of these modes levels up your player avatar. In the story mode, you’re able to choose whether you want your avatar to appear in game as a Saiyan boy, Saiyan girl, Red Ribbon android, Namekian, Friezan (???), or Kai. Once you’ve chosen a race, you can insert your own avatar into your deck and take it into battle.
Playing these modes also nets you rewards such as zeni, custom card components, and gacha tickets, so it doesn’t matter much which modes you play. I found the card and mission creation modes to be more robust than expected, though I rarely touched them. The mission mode in particular impressed me, allowing you to customize not only the music, setting, and opponents, but also more granular details like enemy placement per round, QTE speeds, and additional goals were bonus points when cleared in battle.
The arcade and tournament modes are fine, but they’re both essentially just escalating series of battles. It’s for that reason I stuck mostly to the story mode. The story mode not only offers the escalating battles of the other modes but also a healthy dose of fanservice (not that kind, the other kind). As a huge Dragon Ball fan, it was very charming and relatable to play through a story all about a bunch of kids who are huge Dragon Ball fans getting to meet their Dragon Ball heroes. It also allows for fun shenanigans like getting to play through small side missions where the failed fusions of Trunks and Goten, Goku and Vegeta, and Goku and Mr. Satan argue over which one is the best.
Be warned, though, it’s a rather long and pretty repetitive story mode. Having spent 15 hours with the game, I’d say 12 of those have been in the story mode. I’ve yet to make it more than a few chapters in, and I’ve no inclination how long it ultimately will be. The fights can get pretty repetitive too. Individual chapters mostly seem to consist of you fighting the same set of enemies over and over again with them powering up more for each battle (which, let’s be honest, is pretty faithful to the spirit of the Dragon Ball series.)
The presentation does leave a bit to be desired, though. The character models are pretty blocky and lifeless having pretty much just one facial expression despite the situation. The cutscenes in turn look like a bunch of action figures being mashed together. This unfortunately carries over into the battles. The animations look a bit better in battle, but the models look even blockier and the textures even more lower resolution. It honestly makes the game look like an HD port of a Vita game -- maybe even a PSP game. What little voiced lines the game has also sound like extremely low-quality rips of lines from the anime.
While I’m on the subject of voice lines, there’s something I’d like to address. The game just received its first patch and free update adding new content such as music, missions, and stages. It also added a bunch of new cards, most of which are themed around the recent Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie. Obviously, free content updates are great. However, one of these newly added cards is Bulma in her snowsuit from the film. For those who don’t know, Aya Hisakawa voiced Bulma in the movie following the untimely death of Hiromi Tsuru in 2017. Coinciding with the addition of this new Bulma card featuring Aya Hisakawa’s performance, all lines recorded by Hiromi Tsuru have been patched out and re-dubbed by Aya Hisakawa.
My assumption is this was done for consistency’s sake, but nevertheless I can’t help but be angered by it. It would be one thing if this choice had been made midway through development, but to release the game with her in it and retroactively erase her performance is egregious. I have nothing but respect for Aya Hisakawa’s performance in the role, but to patch out the legacy of the woman who had been there from the VERY beginning more than thirty years ago is little more than a slap in the face. Her fans and the memory of her massive contributions to the franchise deserve better.
With all that said, there’s one last thing I need to address. My gripes with the presentation and repetitive nature of the game itself have done little to hamper my enjoyment of this game. The truth is, I have had a lot of fun playing SUPER DRAGON BALL HEROES WORLD MISSION. In fact, I’ve had more fun than I’ve ever had playing a card game. As soon as I finish formatting this review, I’m going to hop back in and play some more. Last time I played, I drew some pretty high-level cards, and I’ve just been thinking and thinking about what I need to do to fit them into my deck. This game is way better than any of my initial impressions led me to believe.
Which is why it pains me to say that the game has one giant, glaring flaw that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down. There just simply aren’t enough people playing it. To be clear, I’ve been playing the Steam version of the game, so I can’t speak to whether or not there’s an active player base on Switch. On Steam, though, it’s all but barren. No matter what time of day I’ve hopped into online battles, I’ve been lucky to find more than one person to fight against. I’ve sat and watched myself get matched with someone, only for them to exit the lobby, get matched with me again, exit again, get matched, exit, match, exit, match, exit, and finally give up when it becomes clear to them I’m the only person playing at that time. It’s even worse in the special event battle lobbies, which I’ve never managed to match with anyone.
I have had a blast playing around with this game, and the most fun I’ve had is in the few online matches I found. Even when I get my butt handed to me, I feel like I learn a lot more about strategizing and optimizing my deck than when I play against AI. The less active players there are, the less unique play-styles I’m able to expose myself to and learn from. It also means there’s less of a community online outside the game. Searching for tier lists and tips almost exclusively lead you to communities based around the arcade game. While this has helped me identify some of my more high-level cards, there are aspects of WORLD MISSION that go unexplored, such as the overall viability of the player character card.
Super Dragon Ball Heroes may be one of the biggest digital card games out there, but its digital nature has left it tragically inaccessible to those of us in the West. Without the active and expansive arcade scene of Japan, there’s simply been no way to engage with that community as more than a bystander. SUPER DRAGON BALL HEROES WORLD MISSION marks the very first time this series has been accessible to players outside of a Japanese arcade, and it’s REALLY FUN. There’s certainly no shortage of Dragon Ball or competitive card game fans out here, yet so far the game seems to be struggling to find an audience. I really hope that can change. I’ve had a blast playing this game, and I want to keep enjoying it for some time to come.
+ Deep, rewarding combat system
+ Plethora of collectable cards
+ Plenty of deep cuts and fanservice for Dragon Ball fans to appreciate
+ Cards can only be earned through in-game rewards, no external purchases required
+ Interesting custom card and mission creation tools
+ Plenty of alternative modes to explore
+ SSJ3 Nappa grows a beard
+/- Online battles are its best feature, but finding other players is extremely difficult
- Could use an automatic deck-builder for less-experienced players
- Story mode can be bit of a grind
- Disappointingly low-quality audio and visuals
- Questionable patch removed a deceased voice actress's lines
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